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Editorial Reflections

The late Desmond Tutu's words are his legacy

To overcome oppression and hate, having perspective fed by a sense of humor and ability to laugh at the irony of those who think they can hold power through fear, intimidation and threats is crucial.

South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who died Dec. 26 at age 90, told the Associated Press how he wanted to be remembered: "He loved. He laughed. He cried. He was forgiven. He forgave. Greatly privileged."

Humor accompanied his persistent challenges to end the apartheid system in which the white minority oppressed the majority black and colored population of South Africa. Once the African National Congress was in power, Tutu did not hesitate to challenge them when corruption overtook the goal of economic equality.

He loved, laughed and cried through the Truth and Reconciliation process he oversaw to bring people back together through hearing the stories of what happened, forgiving and accepting forgiveness.

For me, the words of late Archbishop Emeritus of the Diocese of Cape Town, speaking in 2012 at the Gonzaga University commencement are his best eulogy:

"All! All! All!" Thirty times he repeated "all" to make his point that Jesus draws all people, not just some, into God's "incredible divine embrace of love."

God embraces all, regardless of their beauty, cleverness, height, shape, race, gender, sexual orientation or faith, he told graduates in the 125th commencement.

Tutu closed with God's call, "Help me so my children will know we belong in one family, God's family, the human family, and no one is outside this embrace.

"Help me! Help me! Help me!" he repeated about as many times, as God's call to everyone. He challenged people to collaborate with God to make the world more hospitable to gentleness, caring, compassion and sharing.

"God is calling you. God is depending on you to make this the kind of world where no one goes to bed hungry," he said. "Please, my children, help me."

He also challenged people to dream.

"Please, please, please dream. Don't allow yourself to be infected by the cynicism of oldies," he said. "Dream incredibly idealistic, creative things.

"This can become a world where war is no more. Think of the billions we spend on instruments of war and destruction. A minute fraction of the obscene amounts would assure that God's children everywhere can have clean water to drink and would not die for a lack of cheap inoculations," he said.

Tutu urged dreaming of a world without poverty, a world marked by equity, where everyone, everyone has a decent life.

"We can have such a world!" he said.

"Have you discovered how extraordinary God, the Omnipotent One is? God almost always waits to have a human collaborator for what God wants to happen in the world. If there are hungry people, the Omnipotent One is not able to do it without human collaborators," he said.

Through salvation history, Tutu said God has had co-workers, often young people like Joseph, David or Jeremiah.

"No one of us is an accident. God knew you, and you, and you, and you, from all eternity. You are totally indispensable. Youth are fantastic," Tutu asserted.

He recalled coming to U.S. campuses "a long time ago," and having his heart warmed by students out in the hot sun, demonstrating to ask their institutions to divest from companies that did business supporting apartheid in South Africa. That movement helped free Nelson Mandela from prison and be president five years.

"You helped to free us. We have freedom and democracy now," Tutu said.  "We seek to be a non-sexist, non-racist democracy.  You were part of that movement to make God's world beautiful."

From years of struggle to end racial apartheid in South Africa, he challenged those who would dismiss or penalize half the world because of gender or exclude people because of race or sexual orientation

"Go out! You are extraordinary creatures. God says please help me. God is calling you," he said. 

May his words inspire us to act today.

Mary Stamp - Editor

Copyright@ The Fig Tree, January, 2022